For all their illustrious histories, their status as founder members of the Football League, their lengthy list of league and cup honours, their array of footballing legends, the Sherpa Van Trophy final of 1988 is still an occasion which resonates strongly with fans of both Wolves and Burnley.
That mere suggestion – celebrating the Sherpa Van Trophy – may still inspire a spot of ridicule from elsewhere within the footballing fraternity, but not at Molineux or Turf Moor.
That competition for clubs from the bottom two divisions – current moniker the Papa John’s Trophy – was probably not a place either Wolves or Burnley would ever have envisaged inhabiting, or wish to entertain in the future, at least at first team level.
But the crowd of 80,841 which packed out Wembley one sunny May afternoon offered a sign – if one were needed – of the outstanding fanbases of two historic clubs, both of whom were launching a renaissance ahead of respective journeys back from the depths, to where now, once again on Sunday, they will lock horns in the Premier League.
For Wolves, who had just romped to the Fourth Division title, another promotion would immediately follow and they would at least be back on solid ground in the second tier, having twice almost gone out of business earlier in the 1980’s.
For Burnley, redemption would take a few years more with the Fourth Division title in 1991/92, but that afternoon at Wembley, even in defeat, was at least progress from the previous year when only victory against Leyton Orient on the final day, and defeat for Lincoln elsewhere, kept them in the Football League.
So yes, the Sherpa Van Trophy final was quite an event, and the Wolves influence in the 2-0 win that day was not just confined to those wearing gold and black.
Within the Burnley line-up that day was not only a Wolves League Cup winner of 1980 in Peter Daniel but a young defender who is now filling a hugely important role in present-day life at Molineux.
Steve Davis, a lifelong Wolves fan, was a 22-year-old Burnley centre back faced with the unenviable task of trying to shackle the firepower of Steve Bull and Andy Mutch as the two Fourth Division sides did battle.
It didn’t end in victory – albeit Davis would later return to taste Wembley success as a manager – but, even in defeat, there was a tiny morsel of consolation.
“Bully didn’t score,” reports the now 56-year-old, still displaying a justifiable sense of satisfaction, over three decades on!
“And that was probably an achievement in itself!
“I always enjoyed testing myself against Bully and Mutchy, they were such a power and a force.
“Bully was a non-stop striker, he never gave you a minute’s peace, and he always worked so hard to close defenders down and put people under pressure.
“We all knew about his finishing ability, but what stood out for me was how he would never give you a second and every high ball was challenged, every bit of space covered, you always knew he was around.
“I did have a few good days against Wolves as a player, later on with Barnsley as well, and I got the odd Man of the Match award in there too.
“In a way I suppose I somehow did that little bit more when I came up against Wolves, because they were my team.
“It didn’t work out that day at Wembley, but I remember being so desperate to stop Bully scoring as he think he had already gone past 50 goals and was on the verge of some sort of record.
“He had one or two chances but the Wolves goals came from a Mutchy header and Robbie Dennison free kick, but keeping Bully quiet that day was a bit of a consolation.
“Let’s face it, it certainly didn’t happen very often!”
That was just one of many different dances with Wolves which Davis has enjoyed during his career, which are particularly enjoyable given he spent his formative years watching the team from the terraces.
Born in Birmingham, his father Peter worked in Tipton and took Davis along to matches at Molineux in the early Seventies.
Moving between both of the famous terraces behind the goal, as a youngster he would often find a spot sitting on a bar where the St John’s Ambulance were based, next to the North Bank, looking on in awe at the massed swathes of Wolves supporters singing and swaying across the terraces.
“I first started going in the early Seventies – that would be my team,” Davis recalls.
“I’ve still got a fair few of the match programmes in my attic, I’m a bit sad that way!
“I always remember that team – Munro, Bailey, Parkin and others – but John Richards was always my favourite player.
“There are pictures of me wearing a Wolves kit at the age of five or six, it’s in the blood, and I have always looked out for their results throughout my career.”
It is a career which has come into contact with Wolves or Wolves’ personnel on several occasions, and one which now sees him working within the club’s Academy as a Senior Development Coach which includes being Head Coach of the Under-18 side.
The Wolves young guns are currently nearing the end of an excellent season – more on that later – and the success which Davis has masterminded alongside his coaching staff is perhaps no surprise given it’s not so long ago that he came mighty close to landing the top job at Wolves, that of first team Head Coach.
His extensive playing career, almost 550 appearances mainly for Crewe, Burnley and Barnsley, many of which came as captain, paved the way to move into coaching and management, initially in non-league with Northwich Victoria and Nantwich Town where he masterminded two successive promotions and an FA Vase victory, at St Andrew’s in 2006.
That success saw Davis snapped up as assistant manager to Gudjon Thordarson at Crewe, and later Dario Gradi, before stepping into the hotseat – with spectacular results – just over a decade ago.
Having taken over in the November, Crewe embarked on a 16-game unbeaten run to gatecrash the League Two play-offs and defeat Cheltenham 2-0 at Wembley, returning to the national stadium a year later to win the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy against Southend on the back of a mid-table finish at the higher level. This time, Steve Bull wasn’t invited!
And so, by the time Wolves came to appoint a new Head Coach in the summer of 2013, with the club in need of a substantial rebuild on and off the pitch after successive relegations, Davis was very much in the frame.
The subsequent appointment of Kenny Jackett would prove a masterstroke, but Davis impressed considerably during the extensive interview process, and the fact he reached the final three candidates on the short-list was an indication of just how highly he was regarded within the Molineux corridors of power.
“The remit at that time was to get Wolves straight back into the Championship first time around which I completely understood,” says Davis.
“I got down to the last three, but I was the one who didn’t have that experience of working in the Championship.
“The interviews had gone really well, that passion of being a Wolves fan was probably an advantage, but when I had the conversation with Kevin (then Head of Football Recruitment Kevin Thelwell), the main thing they needed was an experience of Championship football.
“That was fair enough, it’s football, and I just had to move on and continue to progress.”
Of course, those Wolves connections continued, and little under 12 months later, when Jackett’s team clinched promotion, it was against Davis’s Crewe, followed by a memorable pitch invasion at Gresty Road.
“Wolves were far superior to everyone else in League One that season, and deserved to get out of the league,” he acknowledges.
“Of course, as a manager I didn’t like losing to them, but taking that out of it, and being a fan for all the other matches, I’m delighted that they did.”
Davis would spend over five years in the Crewe hotseat, battling the perennial challenge of that particular role in aiming to be successful on the pitch whilst developing players who are sold on at a profit to safeguard the club’s future.
During his tenure Nick Powell moved to Manchester United, Ashley Westwood to Aston Villa and Luke Murphy to Leeds, and whilst transfers such as those are perhaps understandable in terms of Crewe’s size and status, it can make the job very precarious as shown by the Railwaymen becoming the first team in the country to suffer relegation this season.
Davis thoroughly enjoyed his time with the club – almost eight years in total – and was keen to utilise all those successes and experiences in his next role, with Leyton Orient.
Taking the helm in the summer of 2017, just after the club had gone through a takeover and lost several key players, the original plan of reshaping the club and building a new culture was soon shifted to the need to get results, and losing his job within just six months never really gave Davis the chance to install his long-term vision at Brisbane Road.
What did it do however was give him the chance to meet – more to the point sign – a hugely popular former Wolves defender.
“I loved George, I went down there and we managed to sign him from Colchester and we just hit it off straightaway,” says Davis.
“He was just the sort of personality we needed and there was a great mutual respect between us.
“Unfortunately, he picked up an injury, and we missed him, but some games he would come in and I’d be like ‘go on George, you do the team talk’.
“He was always so humble with it, and I remember chatting to him about his Mum’s cooking and we were going to get her in to do a traditional meal for the lads.
“Sadly, we didn’t get time to do that before I left but I have a great relationship with George and I am still in regular contact with him now.”
There is also another former Wolves defensive favourite with whom Davis very much enjoyed working.
In between Elokobi and those days back watching the team in the Seventies, came a season in the Burnley back-line alongside John Pender, who spent his formative years at Molineux and won promotion with both Wolves and Clarets.
Davis, like all Pender’s former team-mates and indeed the footballing world in general, was saddened to hear the news towards the end of the year that his previous central defensive partner had been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease.
“I really enjoyed playing alongside ‘Pender the Defender’,” says Davis.
“We lived on the same estate in Burnley and built a good partnership as well as being good friends.
“I think we were both similar players in terms of being old fashioned ball winners, being commanding and dominating, but also perhaps with more football ability than we were given credit for.
“It was devastating to hear of John’s diagnosis, sadly it seems to be something that is happening more and more with ex-footballers.
“Like everyone, I just wish John and his family all the very best and knowing his character I am sure he will be facing up to the situation with strength and courage.”
Pender once came through the ranks at Wolves to be a success within the first team, and that is the sort of challenge now facing Davis in his current role at Molineux.
He can also perhaps take further experience from the fact that both his Burnley-born sons have forged successful careers in the game chalking up a combined total of over 500 league appearances.
Harry, whose CV includes Crewe, St Mirren, Grimsby and Scunthorpe, is still playing with AFC Fylde while Joe, who played for Port Vale, Luton and Fleetwood, has since completed a degree in Media & Broadcasting and is now a part of the Communications Department at the League Football Education headquarters in Preston.
So Davis’s footballing links certainly span the generations and, initially brought in by Thelwell after Wolves were promoted to the Premier League to work with the senior players surplus to requirements under Nuno Espirito Santo, his abilities have since been harnessed to lead the Under-18s.
That has seen him become part of a well-tuned Academy operation designed to bring players through for the Wolves first team – both Luke Cundle and Chem Campbell have made Premier League debuts this season – or, if not, to develop the skills and well-rounded characteristics for them to forge a career elsewhere.
Whilst results at Academy aren’t therefore an all-or-nothing priority, creating a winning mentality is also important, and so the Under-18s reaching the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup for the first time in 17 years was quite rightly hailed as a notable achievement.
“We’ve all worked to develop a really good group and the run we had getting through to that semi-final with Manchester United was something which filled everyone with immense pride,” Davis reflects.
“We’re very proud of the group and very proud of how far they have come.
“There are some exciting talents in there and many have also moved up to do well with the Under-23s which is a really positive sign.
“At the Academy we know we are all involved in really important roles, and we have a brilliant relationship with the first team staff which helps in the aim of pushing on and producing players.
“For me personally, being a Wolves fan there is that extra incentive to work as hard as I can to help young players come through and grace the first team.
“I see myself as very fortunate to come into a club that I supported as a young kid and work on the development of players, and I love every single day.”
So, Wolves travelling to Burnley, the first two teams to win all four divisions of the Football League, in a way a back-handed compliment in itself, is a fixture of some significance for Davis.
He is delighted that both have now operated for several years in the Premier League, albeit with the knowledge that Burnley – who last week dispensed with the services of Sean Dyche after nine-and-a-half years at the helm – have work to do to maintain that status this time around.
His own focus remains on relishing the opportunity of nurturing Molineux’s young talent and, with a wealth of experience and coaching expertise forged at both senior and academy levels, is clearly well placed to be a key part of the process shaping potential stars from the conveyor belt.
Having had a strong feeling for Wolves past, and a key part now in the present, Davis is also heavily involved in paving the way for the future.